The Eleonas’ August!
Last update: December 12, 2022.
The Greek and EU authorities have implemented closed and controlled camps as a means of addressing the refugee crisis and addressing issues of racism. However, the poor conditions in these camps and the instances of physical and psychological violence have led to the dehumanization of refugees and immigrants, who are often labeled as “scary,” “deviant,” “undesirable,” and “potential dangers” rather than being recognized as individuals facing life-threatening situations. The inhumane living conditions in these camps, which have been frequently denounced by human rights organizations, are often concealed by labeling the occupants as “illegal immigrants,” “asylum seekers,” or even “criminals.” It is crucial for the authorities to recognize the humanity and dignity of refugees and immigrants and to provide them with the necessary support and resources to rebuild their lives.
Asylum seekers in Greece, and throughout Europe, often face a range of challenges that can have a severe impact on their well-being and quality of life. These challenges can include unemployment, drug addiction, constant stress and anxiety, mental illness, illiteracy, and more. Many of these issues stem from the conditions in which asylum seekers find themselves, including the lack of access to resources and support. Research has shown that framing asylum seekers as threats or deviants can lead to a lack of responsibility towards them and a reduction in feelings of remorse, which can in turn justify the lack of humanitarian assistance and even the use of violent and punitive measures to control refugees and migrants.
At the western edge of Athens, there is a refugee camp called Eleonas, where several hundred refugees currently live. The residents of this camp were facing an eviction on August 16, 2022, despite their objections. In response, they have organized a strong resistance against the various forms of oppression and hardship they have faced, including racism, physical violence, threats against their children, blackmail, misinformation, and worsening shortages of food and medication. The residents of Eleonas have faced these challenges from the camp management, police, and municipality.
Those who, each day, pitch camp farther off from their birthplace, those who, each day, haul in their boat on other banks, know better, day by day, the course of illegible things; and tracing the rivers towards their source, through the green world of appearances they are caught up suddenly into that harsh glare where all language loses its power. _ Saint-John Perse - Snow
It is difficult to provide an accurate and up-to-date count of the number of refugees living in camps in Greece, as the situation can change rapidly and there are different sources of information available. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of December 2020, there were approximately 36,600 refugees and asylum seekers living in camps and other reception facilities in Greece. However, it is important to note that this number represents only a portion of the total refugee population in Greece, as many refugees also live outside of camps in urban areas or other settings. It is also worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the situation of refugees in Greece and may have affected the number of people living in camps.
The figure includes those who are waiting for their asylum applications to be processed and those whose applications have not been approved. A number of individuals and families are unable to leave the camps due to medical or economic reasons. however, they are mostly forced to leave the camp. which they face strong poverty, homelessness and health problems.
In December 2020, strict border restrictions were imposed on mainland Greece, resulting in the establishment of 32 camps, many of which included temporary accommodations. After a continued decline in refugee arrivals in 2021 (approximately a 42% decrease from the previous year), as well as an increase in reports and claims of Pushbacks at the border, these temporary accommodation facilities were reduced to 25 by December 2021.
Since these camps are planned for temporary holding, the duration of captivity/residence of people in them varies. This situation has made access to many facilities such as food, health and treatment difficult and even impossible for residents.
Around 1000 refugees are expected to remain on the street and another 600 will be moved elsewhere, in Schistos, Malakasa, Ritsona, Thebes, Koutsochero, etc.
On 21 of June, refugees with their children from different countries demonstrated with songs and beating rhythmic pots for two hours, closing Agios Polykarpou street for a while as a crowd came out of the structure. It is a violent and heartless interruption of the collective effort to integrate into society that the workers of Eleonas helped with great effort.
“Athens is turning into a city without a host structure for refugees after the final stoppage of the ESTIA program with hosting in houses,” said Petros Konstantinou, Athens city councilor. He asked to continue the hospitality programs in Eleonas and in the houses, to give papers and asylum for everyone, for the social workers and all the staff to continue working so that the refugees have care and access to the asylum services, to the hospitals.
Refugees, municipal factions, and teachers previously met with agents of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, but no answers were given to their requests. In spite of this, they attempted to convince them that the structures outside Athens are better than Eleonas, while it is known that in Ritsona and Malakasa, no refugee children went to school because the regional administration failed to provide buses for transportation, and according to a variety of reports, some managers prevented the children from attending school as well.
A final decision about the camp was taken by the Municipal Council of Athens on Monday 4 July. Last December, the Athens municipal authority voted in the Athens municipal council to terminate the contract with the Ministry of Asylum and Migration, leading to the structure closing on June 30, which did not actually happen.
“On June 30, it led to the dismissal of workers, social workers, psychologists, interpreters, and administrative staff who significantly contributed to the smooth functioning of the structure.” told me Elena, an social worker who was working at the camp.
She continued “At the same time, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum promoted the transfer of hundreds of refugees to other camps in the middle of the school year without even taking care of their inclusion in other schools in the beginning, leading to an immediate reaction from the teachers’ unions who forced to stop this miserable operation.”
Ahamd.D from Afghanistan and his family are living here for 2 years. they come from Samos and despite having international protection, they are still living in the camp: “I registered on Helios. they told me I’m gonna have support.”
Ahmed continues “Here at the camp, they told me that Helios will give you a home. Of course, this is not true. The translator or the camp staff, I don’t know, after all they are not telling the truth. I registered in Helios and in the situation that I have no job, no money and no financial support, they told me to go and rent a house! It was too expensive for me to afford the rent.”
Omar is from Syria, he lost all of his family on missile attack near Alepo on 2015. he is living here alone: “I got my asylum but what? I don’t have anything. I need to pay for my documents, and I don’t have that money, but Helios is telling me go and rent a house so we can support you. what is this support when they don’t care I don’t have money at all? No money, no house, no house, no support!”
According European IPA law, the beneficiaries of international protection should enjoy the same rights as Greek citizens and receive the necessary social assistance, according to the terms applicable to Greek citizens. However, administrative and bureaucratic barriers, lack of state-organised actions in order to address their particular situation, non-effective implementation of the law, and the impact of economic crisis prevent international protection holders from the enjoyment of their rights.
Farhad, a 52-year-old from Iran says: “I have been in Greece for 5 years, 4 of which I have spent in the Eleonas camp. My house is a simple container, which is very hot in the summer to its metal construction and the hot and humid climate of Athens. In some of these container, even up to 8 people live, in a conditions that these container are basically intended for 3 people.”
How is it living here for you? I asked Farhad and he responded: “During the Covid era, when my asylum application was closed, they also cut off my financial aid and food rations. Then, I started collecting garbage like paper and metal or anything and selling it, earning 8 to 11 euros a day and sometimes nothing. My suffering was great, and I would not be able to support myself if I lived in another camp that was hours far from the city.”
If there are any “positives” in a camp life, it has the advantage of being located within the city’s social fabric, which facilitates communication, social contacts, and relationships, and allows refugee children to access schools. It was the only camp in which solidarity was free to enter, until March 2018, when, for the first time, non-resident were not allowed to enter the camp. An group from Solidarity with Migrants attempted to distribute a notice for the March demonstration, and the security guard informed them that the delegation needs permission from the administration a day or two before the that.
”Open camps” have become ”closed controlled centers” after lockdown, while the state changed its structure during the pandemic with the excuse of Covid-19, in a non-typical way-after lockdown, they voted the new closed controlled camp law. When 2 Covid-19 cases were reported, they implemented quarantine and fined anyone wanted to leave the camp without providing them a Covid test.
By cutting financial aid and food rations for rejected asylum seekers or granted international/subsidiary protection, the Asylum Service lunching a process for these people to leave the camps or, return to their origin countries under this type of pressure.
I visited the camp on August 10. I was there while they were distributing food. I was talking with a women outside of the camp she said “this is just garbage and nothing else!” They brought a food that was spaghetti and some meat. On the package, the expiration date was the same day. Those who were accepted for asylum or whose application was rejected did not receive food.
Farhad explained to me by relying on the cooperation of some camp residents, they were able to organize collecting stuff to provide their basic needs and sometimes share food and some items among camp residents and their friends.
In 2021, 16,588 2020 people were granted international protection at first instance, down from 34,321 in 2020,17,355 in 2019, 15,192 in 2018 and 10,351 in 2017. As noted by UNHCR, “[t]here is a pressing need to support refugees to lead a normal life, go to school, get healthcare and earn a living. This requires key documents that allow access to services and national schemes, enable refugees to work and help their eventual integration in the host communities […] UNHCR advocates for refugees to be included in practice in the national social solidarity schemes, as for example the Social Solidarity Income and the Rental Allowance Scheme. While eligible, many are excluded because they cannot fulfil the technical requirements, as for example owning a house, or having a lease in their name”. (Greek Council for Refugees)
However, 48,756 refugees have re-applied for asylum in Germany after having been granted protection in Greece, figures from the end of May show. That’s according to the Sunday edition of the newspapers of the Funke Media Group citing information from the federal interior ministry.
In 2021, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) had previously rejected the asylum applications from the men, an Eritrean and a Palestinian of Syrian origin, and threatened them with deportation to Greece. Two appeals against the BAMF decision were rejected before the men appealed to the OVG. There can be no further appeal against this week’s ruling.
According to the court’s reasons, if the two refugees were returned to Greece they would face “extreme material hardship.” They would be unable to find accommodation in reception facilities or homeless shelters, and would have difficulty accessing the labor market. Currently in Greece, a large number of recognized beneficiaries of protection are already homeless.
BAMF had stopped processing the applications from Greece after the German courts said deportees must not be returned because their basic needs would not be met in Greece. Had EU asylum rules applied, however, the applications would have been decided as ‘inadmissible’ and the asylum seekers would have been sent back to Greece.
July 5th: At the time when the issue of the Eleonas refugee structure was scheduled to be discussed in the municipal council, more than 150 refugees and solidarians participated in a demonstration in Kotzia Square. Before closing the structure, they request that the refugees be housed in decent conditions within the urban fabric, that the refugees not be relocated to camps outside of Attica, as is planned by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum, and that the contracts of the mental and health workers be renewed to provide social support for Eleonas refugees.
Refugees from Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Syria have long struggled to access asylum procedures and essential services in Greece. Human rights groups and observations insist that Greece’s treatment of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion reveals a discriminatory extreme policy that cannot be explained without mentioning racism.
The Greek government has long blamed the country’s asylum and migration reception system’s shortcomings on technical issues and a lack of capacity. This narrative has been undermined by the swift establishment of a more dignified system for Ukrainians.
While we were at the gate of the camp in the early morning of 25 August, Farzana.A among of other women from Afghanistan explained: “Our resident permit documents has been expired on October 2021 and still, we are waiting for a appointment to renew it!”
Those Ukrainians who have come to Greece have either already lived in the country with family and friends, or came because – unlike some other EU countries – Greece has allowed those who left Ukraine before the Russian offensive began in February to apply for protection.
With thousands of homeless people in the city looking for shelter, the government and municipality planed to close Eleonas camp and transfer the refugees to “Ghettos” outside the city without proper access to medical and administrative services. This issues has been report it constantly by resident of the camps such as Malakasa and Ritsuna.
On August 16, plans to evacuate the camp, which had been announced days ago, seem to have been averted for the time being. The anti-terrorism police arrived at the scene in continuation of protests. One of the government’s efforts is to portray refugees as dangerous. presenting these people as threatening and deviant serves to absolve the state of responsibility towards them and can be an effective strategy to alleviate any guilt felt about their suffering. In effect, this not only justifies with holding humanitarian assistance, it also legitimizes the use of punitive, even violent, means to control migrants.
The migrants prevented the camp manager, who is responsible for organizing their extortion by the Ministry of Immigration in recent months, from entering the camp, and continue to prevent entry to Ministry officials.
On the early hours of August 18 (around 4 am), a violent operation was carried out by the Greek police, in particular by the riot police and special forces, in the Eleonas camp, as part of the planned decision of Municipality of Athens and the Ministry of Migration, regarding the gradual evacuation of the refugee camp and the displacement of the residents outside Athens.
The result of the operation, despite the mobilization of large police forces, was limited to the transfer of 30 migrants who were “convinced” to move to other camps, in this particular case to the Schistos camp. To carry out this transfer, the repressive forces clashed, with violent charges and launches of chemicals, with a crowd of several dozen migrants and supporters, including pregnant women and children, who refuse to proceed with the evacuation process, which should take several weeks.
I was talking also with Asim from Pakistan. He is living in Eleonas camp with his family for more than 7 years. I asked him why he is not applying for permanent residency, and he responded: “I asked the camp manager (Maria-Dimitra Nioutsikou) and she told me no, you can’t!” which is not true. According to the law, People can apply for Greek citizenship after seven years of residence. which makes Asim’s family entitle to apply for citizenship. But the camp manager exploits the refugees’ ignorance of law, depriving them of their rights.
We are hundreds of people who form different communities based on our ethnic backgrounds and languages. In the last year, the camp manager told us that, by decision of the mayor, our camp was going to be closed and we had to move to other places. This is the only refugee camp in Athens, and the various places they refer to are even outside the whole area of Attika, in places outside the urban fabric, restricted to the middle of nowhere, in many cases in closed and fenced camps, with unsanitary conditions, where every step of our lives is controlled and completely washed from the public eye. The state’s proposals for transporting us are only the specific open detention centers, and not apartments or hostels within the city. Our request and our immediate need is to live within the city.Residents of Eleonas camp
Talking to Omar. He is tired and thinking: “I need my documents my brother and they are telling me because of the situation, Mudira can not do her job.” As Taher was smoking, eventually responded: “they can just send you to Katechaki. no need Mudira here.” And the conversation goose on when Shahram told them: “but she told me this is my job and until the last person I will be here to finish all the process. this is my duty.”
Katachaki is the name of the place where the Asylum and migration administration located in Athens and, Mudira in Arabic means the manager. people got use to call the manager of the camp as Mudira.
Nasir is tired also and he complained he couldn’t sleep and meanwhile said: “It is 2 years I’m here and waiting for my documents, you think why they didn’t give me anything? My kids are in Germany alone, and why should I wait for 2 years until getting something?”
This occurred during the Greek state’s attempt to evacuate the Eleonas camp in recent months. However, at least 600 more people still live in the camp. In addition to violent evictions, the camp administration was also blackmailing residents to accept transfer to other camps under the threat of not issuing documents and their removal from the Greek system.
Containers burned, people lost their belongings, a child is in the hospital. At the same time, the mayor and the minister announce a new transfer of 226 refugees to other camps, camps where we will be far from everything, without access to schools, health, social services and work, all that allow us to live as human beings.
We had already organized a big mobilization in the fall, with cards that read “If you want us to leave Eleonas, give us houses inside the city.” But now they have decided that the families housed in the apartments will have to leave them too at the end of the year. Where should we go? In camps that are like prisons? Or on the road? We want papers and rights.
We are refugees who fled war and violence in our country. We just want to continue to be housed in the structure of Eleonas, to have access to health and school for our children, to live in harmony with the people here. We also want all the camp workers, social workers, psychologists, etc., whom we need so badly, to stay.
We want to live here, Eleonas is our home!
It was written by members of the African Refugee Community of Eleonas
Giannis is a friend from Solidarity With Migrants that they supported migrant in the camp and they helped them to give voice. We are talking in front of the camp: “From June 2022, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum threatened the residents of Eleonas camp to leave the structure. Several transfers have been organized since then to camps such as Schisto, Ritsona, and Malakasa.” He said and continued: “What migrants are claiming is to have their asylum procedures taken care of faster, receive the documents in good order and get decent housing in the cities.”
Greek Council for Refugees in may has published a report and explained the situation as follow: “Regarding housing arrangements, with very few exceptions, there has been a significant reduction in the emergency units used to address accommodation needs, which were mostly covered through containers, apartment/rooms and shelters by December 2021. This also due to the significant decrease in the number of people hosted in the camps which were all operation below their capacity by December 2021, with the sole exception of Eleonas camp in Athens.”
The video is from October 2020 which I received via the new camp residents who were living in tents.
The same report notes that “at the same time, however, more than 2,800 unregistered persons continued residing in the mainland camps. As far as GCR is aware, this includes persons whose asylum applications have not yet been registered, beneficiaries of international protection and persons with rejected asylum applications, thus highlighting a significantly underreported issue that is closely linked to the access to reception conditions, integration policies and prospects, and the persistent application of the “third safe country” (STC) concept by the Greek Asylum Service, which has inter alia led an increasing number of asylum applicants in a state of legal limbo.”
Poor mental health has long been known to have adverse effects and assessing it more readily and accurately in humanitarian crisis can arguably contribute to the well-being of for example refugees by providing those in need with referrals to treatment. The condition of the camps aggravates this damage to mental health.
In such a situation, the camp manager used threats and intimidation to persuade the camp residents to leave. The following paragraphs are the testimonies of camp residents who have been victims of blackmailing and threats. These practices are also confirmed by employees of the camp.
“Since the manager returned to camp, she has been monitoring every person who enters her office to the video footage she has of the protests. If she sees in the video that the person was involved in the protests, she kicks them out of her office and refuses to provide any services. This has devastating effects, as she is the only point of contact for many camp residents when they have questions about the status of their asylum case”
Many of the residents of Eleonas-camp were in Samos when Maria-Dimitra Nioutsikou was the camp manager there in 2018, and many people know her from there and what she did there, and they don’t want her in Eleonas. In Samos, she was responsible for horrible conditions of physical and mental torture. She was in charge of the camp while unaccompanied minors committed suicide in response to the living conditions in the camp: They were violently separated from their siblings (against the law), and twenty of them slept in a container meant for seven people, being bitten by rats and bugs at night. The conditions there did not create protection from sexual violence and psychological and physical torture, but created them. There was no basis for securing basic needs. Now, in Eleonas, Maria-Dimitra Nioutsikou recognized some of the participants of the protest because she met them in Samos. To some people, when we entered the camp, she said: “I will make sure you end up in jail”, and kicked us out of her office. Her threats scare us and we are sure that she can make them come true if she wants to.
Solidarity with Migrant published that “On the 24th of august, the camp manager announced the next transfer of people mainly from the Congolese community to Schisto camp will take place on the 30th of August at 4 am. The way she informs the people about their transfer is by distribution of a written paper, saying when and where their transfer will happen. A direct announcement is added to each of them saying that if they refuse to leave, they will be thrown out to the street, their asylum files will be blocked and removed from the Greek asylum system”.
This kind of mental violence and blackmailing ignores several facts that are against the law: The right to asylum is a fundamental right of refugees and it is an international duty of the state to provide it, also protected by article 18 of Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000/C 364/01).
Solidarity with Migrant announced that What Maria-Dimitra Nioutsikou is doing by threatening to close the asylum cases is violation of the peoples’ right to asylum and excessive use of the law. Asylum cases need a serious reason and a clear lack of cooperation with the asylum services to be closed. The peoples’ resistance in leaving Eleonas and in their following social exclusion is not such a case and has nothing to do with the asylum process.
We were sharing our thoughts that Eli from Solidarity with Migrants mentioned: “These vulgar practices of the professional torturers of the Greek State, in the standards of the European racist and colonial system, continue. For about 8 months, however, and especially in the last two months, they have faced different forms of resistance by migrants, who refuse to be deported out of Athens.”
This has been noted and complained by 24 NGO as well. On their statement they point it that “When residents of the partially-closed camp of Eleonas are notified of their transfer from Eleonas to another camp hours from the city of Athens, a remaining resident of the camp explains that a verbal warning is given to each person: “…that if they refuse to leave, they will be thrown out to the street, their asylum files will be blocked and removed from the Greek asylum system” We note that people’s claims for international protection cannot be discontinued for political or personal reasons, but only for reasons codified in Law 4939/2022 (2). The law prescribes specific grounds for the withdrawal of asylum claims, that do not relate to compliance with accommodation transfers.”
By this time, a group of former Social Workers of the Eleonas camp published a text and denounce the unacceptable practices of “persuasion” used by echelons of the Ministry and its partners so that resident persons consent to their movement. They wrote “During our work at the Eleonas camp, as well as the continuous feedback we receive afterwards, from the residents themselves, there was and is a huge attempt to manipulate them, instrumentalizing basic fundamental rights. More specifically, the people who do not consent to their possible movement do not have the right to continue the financial aid (cash card), since they are automatically deleted from the Structure, while correspondingly the acceleration of the asylum process takes the form of a promise for those who consent. To this day, in an attempt to informally punish protesting residents and suppress their resistance, management personnel refuse any service to them, e.g. refusal to deliver travel documents due to refusal to transfer to another Structure.”
On 19 August, The protesters tried to prevent the camp manager from entering the camp so she would not be able to plan transfers. Her mission is to evacuate and close Eleonas camp, which is the one and only camp in the city of Athens and transfer its inhabitants to camps outside of the city.
Ehsan Fardjadniya, an documentary maker wrote as eyewitness: “The camp manager, Maria-Dimitra Nioutsikou, came around 6-7 in the morning along with the police. Protesters set up barricades using trash cans to prevent police and the manager from entering the camp and by doing so delay the procedure. In the first row of the demonstration were mainly women from the Congo with their children. The manager marched in between 7 to 10 police officers. They approached the protesters who shouted: “Go home! We don’t want you here.” The police retreated. About 15 min later about 30 reinforcements anti-terror police arrived.”
Ehsan wrote on his facebook: “They attacked with violence even though 5 pregnant women stood at the first line. They shouted: ‘Today I will die. Today I’ll be killed with my baby’. The police had come to invade the camp. They started kicking the solidarity protests and together with them pushed the pregnant women and small children inside the camp. I have never seen such behavior of police officers towards pregnant women.”
6 people were arrested on the following charges such as insults, threats, resisting, disrupting a public service, and for one person, in addition, disruption of the public peace.
On the same day, Greece’s Minister of Migration and Asylum tried to change the narrative of the attack on refugees by releasing a short video shot by a staff of the camp and declaring his own employees as victims. The story that was met with the response of the social workers of the camp: “We denounce the government’s attempt to distort the facts and reverse the victim role by releasing isolated video clips.”
A group of academic and social researchers who participated on Saturday morning in the research activity received threats and intimidation from security guard of the Eleonas camp, in the context of its annual international conference held for the first time in Athens.
While the group of university professors and researchers from various European countries were outside Camp Eleonas, at least five meters from the entrance of the structure, the men of the security service moved threateningly towards them. One of them started illegally photographing the participants initially stating that “we have a way to identify you”.
The coordinator of the academic action repeated to the security guard of the structure that it is illegal to photograph the members of the research team without their consent, and then a security guard reported that they were acting on the orders of the police and threatened the participants again, saying: “Call the police and you’ll see what happens.”
Through the camp residents, I learned that another transfer will take place on August 29. Solidarity with Migrants also called for a gathering in front of the camp. I arrived at midnight and there were a group of people. A little later, parts of the documentary made by Raoul Peck, “Exterminate all the Brutes” were shown.
An documentary that tell the story of genocides, conquest, slavery and the fabrication of “Whiteness”. It was at this time that riot police buses arrived and were stationed at a distance from the camp. Early morning around 3:30 am, an ambulance arrived at the camp site and we found out about the death of one person through some of the camp residents.
As Wares Ali’s friend told us, he returns home in the middle of the night and complains of pain in his left arm and chest. His wife informed the camp’s security guards to call an ambulance. But the ambulance arrived around 2-3 hours later.
According to his friends, he was pressured by the camp manager to leave. It is easy to imagine how these pressures, coupled with years of indecision, would resulted in a cardiac arrest. As Wares Ali writhed in pain for more than two hours, the indifference of the security guards and the faulty medical system resulted in his murder! The camp manager Maria-Dimitra Nioutsikou has only shown up for the forced transfer, accompanied by the riot police.
“On Monday August 29th around 01:00 after midnight, my husband started having a severe chest pain. We tried to make him feel better but it was in vain. Shortly after 02:00 I contacted the camp officials and asked for an ambulance to come. Then I went to where we sleep to collect his things to take to the hospital while Wares went to the bathroom. He had a heart attack there. The door was closed and I had no idea what was going on, so I broke the door down and saw him on the ground, covered in blood and with his nose broken. His lifeless body lay in the toilet for five hours covered in blood. Wares died before 4:00, if they had called the ambulance we requested, he could have been saved. No one helped him, and no one cared about him.” Told Abida Isak, wife of Wares Ali to a Greek newspaper, Documento.
She continued “I went to the police and the officers asked for my papers. When I told them I didn’t have any, they told the people accompanying me to take my children because they would arrest me and deport me. I have been here for seven years, and I want to leave Greece and go to Italy to my brothers. I am very scared, stressed and my children are scared and can’t sleep at night. It is impossible for me to live here. I am asking to get my papers to go to Italy. I want it to be heard throughout Europe that the Greek government does not help refugees and immigrants. Justice not only for me, but also for all the refugees and immigrant women who are in Greece.”
Eleonas residents are reluctant to leave because they don’t know what awaits them elsewhere. The camp was situated near the center of Athens and camp residents were allowed to leave the facility as they wished — which is not the case in some other such facilities. In a situation where services are provided in this condition in a camp inside the city, it is not strange that the refugees do not want Eleonas to be closed and go to somewhere else!
But there is enough funding for the police and riot police. They are present everywhere. Faster and sooner than anything. We should always see their brutality, but when it comes to the public health care, there is no budget for an ambulance! The ruling party is showing that it has no competence to manage this country.
A few days ago, Bakoyannis, the mayor of Athens, said that residents of Eleonas camp are not human shields, but flesh and blood. Despite the government and migration ministry cutting off all camp services, he shamelessly said these words. The food that they give to the people (not all) literally is garbage and is not edible due to bad smell and taste. Many of these people has left for a long time, and now, mayor and minister of asylum wants to send them to ghettos outside the city. The closer of the Eleonas Camp has nothing to do with urban planning. When an ambulance takes more than three hours to reach a patient, that place should not be call “city” that suppose to provide and protect peoples needs!
When the protesters asked the police officer (Emmanouilides, assistant police chief) to answer why they had brought the riot police and anti-terrorism forces instead of the ambulance, he answered “say whatever you want”.
Me: “Why didn’t you call more for the ambulance?”A conversation between myself and one of the camp guards…
Guard: “Ask the ministry.”
Me: “Why didn’t you inquire about the situation?”
Guard: “We don’t know.”
Me: “How many times did you call for the ambulance?”
Guard: “Five or six times.”
Me: “What are the protocols in this situation?”
Guard: “I don’t know. Ask the ministry.”
Me: “When the delay occurred, why did you do nothing?”
Guard: “Ask the ministry.”
The well-being of the asylum seekers and refugees in Greece is challenged further by the replacement of the term “refugee” with the term “λαθρομετανάστης” (clandestine) in public discourse, mainly carried out by the media. This altered lexicon marks a distinction between the 1923 refugees who are strongly connected to the notion of national identity, and contemporary refugees. Although at the beginning of their settlement the 1923 refugees were in many cases treated as foreigners and described as Turk-originating, nowadays they are widely perceived as Greeks who survived a tragedy, and therefore of the same ethnicity as the host population. Contemporary refugees however, are viewed as foreigners, since their national identity is other than Greek.
The use of the term clandestine therefore deprives contemporary refugees of a semantic link to the positively-viewed refugees of the previous century. In Greek society, no distinction is made between foreigners and strangers: all of them are considered clandestine. The lack of distinction between migrants and refugees derives from the fact that they are all “non-Greeks”. The reasons for their migration are not considered important enough to classify them as refugees. The 1922 refugees fought and fled from a national enemy, Turkey; although contemporary refugees have fled their enemies too, these enemies are not Greece’s national enemies. Therefore, the identity label of “refugee” seems to be reserved for migrants with a suitable national origin and a suitable enemy.
Western states are deeply contested over the asylum issue as a result of a contradiction between the need to portray themselves as members of shared communities with shared values, including the right not to suffer persecution. Whether someone is allowed entry and residence on the territory of a modern state is a discretionary right assumed by that state. The “schizophrenic response” of European states, in which they continue to embrace asylum, but spurn asylum seekers and only reluctantly offer protection.
Among the manifestations of this schizophrenia is the repeated invocation of the trope of “crisis” in relation to asylum seekers. The “refugee crisis” that dominated European political attention in 2015–2016 was a particularly intense manifestation of the moral panic that has surrounded asylum and immigration more generally for decades.
Politicians and the media often use fluvial or animal metaphors to describe this “crisis”, such as comparing the arrival of asylum seekers to a “flood”, “tide”, “torrent”, or “wave” that threatens to swamp the recipient society, or to a “stampede”, “flock”, or “swarm” with a similar potential to overwhelm the country.
Both types of metaphor are clearly racist and dehumanizing, but they also both employ a rhetorical ruse in relation to the notion of disaster. On the one hand, immigration itself is represented as a “natural” disaster. This view implicitly relieves liberal democracies of their own responsibilities for the immigration pressures they experience: responsibilities rooted in the often invisible “systemic violence” of global capitalism, historical exploitation, unequal trading relationships and neo-colonialism of which they are a part.
In this elision of asylum as crisis, asylum seekers are viewed as cultural, economic, or security threats. Asylum in crisis systems for regulating the number of applicants, deciding upon the validity of their claims, and deporting those whose claims are deemed false are seen as inadequate mechanisms for reproducing dominant asylum discourses. Specifically, it affords the opportunity to project the supposed disaster of migration onto an evidently disastrous administration.
The deficiencies of the Greek refugee system included its Greek matters (from chauvinism to fascism), the lack of management, the lack of efficient remedies and the inadequate social protection of refugees and asylum seekers.
The condition of permanent detention, deportation, and fear of legal and physical violence that accompany being declared ‘illegal’ characterizes the relationship between racialised migrants and the state, governmental authorities, employers, citizens, and the law in relation to evaluation, examination, and estimation in general. Even when not all illegalised migrants are detained or deported, the state’s policy of detention and deportation is an overarching measure with disciplinary repercussions for all illegalised migrants within its territory, and also a deterrent measure for those seeking to cross borders in the future. Albeit the necessary individuation of legal and administrative practices, the looming prospect of coercive immobilisation and removal still yields a totalising effect towards migrants as a population.
* This article contains pictures that I took myself. It is permissible to use them for non-commercial purposes if you cite the source.
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